By Bonnie Gangelhoff; Photos by Mark Compton
Calistoga. St. Helena. Oakville. Yountville. Take an 18-mile spin down Route 29 in California’s Napa Valley, and you’ll find more than fine wines in these small towns. Nestled amid the mustard fields and sun-dappled vineyards is a wide array of sculpture sure to appeal to any art enthusiast.
There are some 300 wineries in the picturesque valley. Many have artistic touches, but each of the four spotlighted here has a sculpture collection that displays a unique vision. Some emphasize works by internationally known art stars; others focus on pieces by talented local artists. Some spotlight modern pieces, while others are full of traditional works. Our first stop is Clos Pegase, located a few minutes from the center of Calistoga.
When art collectors Jan and Mitsuko Shrem decided to build “a temple to wine,” the couple sponsored a competition to find an architect. They eventually tapped the renowned Michael Graves for the honor, and construction on Clos Pegase was completed in 1987. Today Graves’ postmodern creation, a dusty-pink-and-turquoise structure, is surrounded by 450 acres of prime grape-growing terrain.
Its famous 1998 Homage Artist Series Reserve, a blend of the winery’s finest lots of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, hints at what is most striking about this winery for art lovers—an impressive blend of works by internationally known sculptors such as Joel Shapiro, Tony Cragg, and Mark di Suvero. Since the winery opened, the Shrems have been steadily amassing bronze, steel, and marble pieces, and more than 20 of them are on display across the grounds. Representational pieces commingle with the abstract and surrealistic, and some display a sly sense of humor.
The first thing you notice as you pull into the parking lot is the 13-foot figurative work the extravagant. The piece evokes the human form with what appears to be a hand raised in the air, perhaps waving hello to visitors. The sculpture by French artist Jean Dubuffet is a good example of art brut, an expression the artist coined to signify his unconventional style. It turns out that Dubuffet spent half of his life as a wine merchant before exploring art—a juicy bit of trivia you discover while reading a guide provided by the winery. It’s possible that the piece is a subtle wink on the part of the Shrems, in that Dubuffet embodied yet another example of a successful marriage of wine and art.
You can’t reach the tasting room without passing mother earth, an arresting 7-foot bronze by British sculptor Henry Moore. The piece, the guide says, is a reminder of “the gift of the grape from Mother Earth.” Walk past Moore’s piece and expect a surprise: On your left, a giant bronze thumb pokes up from the earth, a sight that causes children to giggle and grown-ups to gawk. More speculation: Are the Shrems paying tribute to man’s “green thumb” in the grape-growing process?
That’s just a sampling of the treasures outside. Indoors, there are more sculptures as well as paintings and collages. Venetian glass chandeliers light the tasting room. In the adjacent Reserve Room, wrecking ball by Michael Scranton dangles ominously from the ceiling, and paintings by Francis Bacon, Kenneth Noland, and Jacques Lipchitz pop up in other nooks and crannies in this wine country ode to the finer things in life.
Leave Calistoga and head south along Route 29 to St. Helena. This section of winding road is among the prettiest with canopies of trees shading the way. A few minutes south of town, watch for a sign that says HALL St. Helena.
Kathryn and Craig Hall are among the newer kids on the Napa vineyard block, but the historic winery they recently acquired is one of the oldest in the valley and specializes in the production of ultra-premium Bordeaux varietal wines. The couple—he’s an investor/developer, and she’s the former U.S. ambassador to Austria—calls Texas home but also has a residence in Napa Valley. Dedicated art collectors with a keen eye for contemporary sculpture, the Halls have installed about 10 pieces across the grounds with the assistance of a curator. The winery is compact, and the sculptures are well-marked for easy discovery.
A bright red tangle of steel, moebus tower by Michelle O’Michael welcomes guests at the entry. In the distance, a signature red awning bearing the name HALL lures the eye (and the palate) to the tasting room. Look to the right before entering and catch a glimpse of Zad Roumaya’s kegger, a whimsical aluminum figure that holds a red wine glass and toasts those who cross the threshold.
The sculptures in the Hall collection run the gamut from representational to abstract. Most are life-size or monumental in scale, so they forge a dominant presence in the vineyard. While there is nothing in particular about the array of works that feels Texan (other than their grand size), many of the artists hail from the Lone Star State or have strong ties there. For example, James Surls, who has been selected for the prestigious Whitney Biennial at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art several times, was a respected teacher and leader in the arts community in Houston before moving to Colorado in 1998.
Surls’ 33-foot reaching out is among the most intriguing pieces on display. The abstract, organic form appears to be half human and half creature from another planet. The piece strikes a magnificent pose on the landscape with curling tentacles pointing to the vineyards and the horizon beyond. Other evocative sculptures such as the brilliant red steel hoxic by Mac Whitney grace the grounds nearby.
Soon the architecture will be a draw here, too. The Halls have enlisted renowned architect Frank Gehry, who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, among many other high-profile structures, to restore and refurbish the visitor’s center and wine production facility.
In March, the Halls opened a second winery, HALL Rutherford, which is tucked away on a hillside about 4 miles away. The perch offers a view of Napa Valley and features 15 additional paintings and sculptures, including another piece by Surls as well as David Hickman’s graceful steel butterfly.
Are you hungry yet? Dean & DeLuca, the famous New York delicatessen, has a satellite location in Napa, minutes from the HALL winery. Check out the astounding, locally produced cheese, salami, and olive selections. Pick up a picnic lunch and nibble your way down the road to Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville.
At the mission-style Mondavi, an imposing statue of St. Francis stretches his arms out across the expanse of the visitor’s center as if to bless the abundant vineyards of this legendary winery. The bronze and mosaic-tile sculpture by San Francisco artist Beniamino Bufano wears a robe speckled with colorful images of birds. Four additional sculptures by Bufano grace the grounds—a bevy of playfully rendered animals that add to the family-friendly atmosphere here. To the right of the archway that leads to the visitor’s center, check out Bufano’s sleek granite bear that is reminiscent of an oversize Native American fetish. Children are often seen posing in front of the bear or sitting on Bufano’s marble camel that rests on the sidewalk outside the Vineyard Room. Bufano, who died in 1970, was an iconoclastic free spirit known for contemporary stone animal sculptures. Early in his career, the artist was dismissed from his post as an instructor at the San Francisco Institute of Art because he was too modern for the conservative faculty.
Mondavi gives one of the most comprehensive tours in the valley, including a mention of the major works of art and a chance to sample its specialties, fumé blanc and cabernet sauvignon. The winery boasts about a dozen artworks, including sculptures, paintings, and mosaics. An indoor art gallery was introduced in 1971, and shows are on display for about two months at a time. Past exhibitions have featured prominent Bay Area artists such as Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliveira, and Wayne Thiebaud. Paintings by Kelleen Sullivan are on view through July.
While Robert Mondavi, known as “Mr. Napa” in these parts, founded the winery that helped put California wines on the international map, it is his wife, Margrit, who is responsible for the emphasis on art here. Margrit Biever Mondavi is fond of saying that fine art, music, food, and wine belong together and “speak to the heart.”
After consuming your fill of art and wine at Mondavi, continue to head south along Route 29 to another legendary winery—our last stop. The California home for France’s fabled champagne producer Moet & Chandon rests on a scenic oasis in Yountville, a fast-growing hub in Napa Valley. The town isn’t quite as charming as St. Helena or Calistoga, but Domaine Chandon is among the prettiest of the wineries. Lush, elegant grounds and a modern visitor’s center invite city folks to kick back for awhile. The serene, Zen-like atmosphere is also ideal for ambling about to discover the sculptures sprinkled across the landscape.
Among the well-manicured lawns and native oak and sycamore trees are more than 15 sculptures by Napa artists Rick Botto and Jeffrey and Lisa Jacklich. Botto, who finds inspiration in the shapes and forms of the vineyards, is known for sculptures that incorporate native rock. There’s a fun example of his work along a pathway leading to the tasting bar and restaurant: mushroom garden features dozens of oversize stone morels that appear to be sprouting up from the earth amid a gathering of trees and shrubs. “I guess we are taking the epicurean outside, because we use a lot of mushrooms in our restaurant,” says Domaine Chandon’s Ellen Flora. “They go very well with wine.” A dish called Ragout of Wild Mushrooms with Sherry and Almonds is among the delicious-sounding items on the menu on this particular day.
Botto has about six sculptures here, including end to end at the entry to the tasting room, a piece that features a precarious stack of rocks encased in a metal tower. The windows in the tasting room offer a glimpse of his dramatic 7-foot sunflowers. If you haven’t stopped to sit already, perhaps it’s time to sip some bubbly underneath the umbrellas on the patio. Notice Jeffrey Jacklich’s shiny metal flamingoes, which nests in the shade of a nearby tree. This is the perfect opportunity to ponder the amazing man-made and natural wonders you witnessed in the wine country.
Consider visiting wineries during the week. Weekends in the summer and fall harvest season mean crowds on the road. Also, sculpture installations are subject to change, so check with the winery in advance if you are interested in seeing a specific piece.
Clos Pegase, Calistoga, 707.942.4981, www.clospegase.com
Domaine Chandon, Yountville, 707.944.2280, www.chandon.com
HALL St. Helena, 707.967.2626, www.hallwines.com
HALL Rutherford, 707.967.0700 (visit by appointment only)
Robert Mondavi Winery, Oakville, 888.766.6328, www.robertmondavi.com
More Sculpture Sites
Artesa Vineyards & Winery, Napa, 707.224.1668, www.artesawinery.com
This winery has an official artist-in-residence, sculptor Gordon Huether, who has created a number of abstract steel works that dot the grounds of the stunning vineyard.
Cliff Lede Vineyards, Yountville, 800.428.2259, www.cliffledevineyards.com
Inventive contemporary pieces are at home at this winery, which boasts Keith Haring’s joyful cutouts, dancing figures, as well as sculptures by Lynn Chadwick and Jim Dine.
Paradise Ridge Winery, Santa Rosa, 707.528.9463, www.prwinery.com
Throughout the summer, works by internationally known Mark di Suvero are on view in this winery’s champagne cellar. And works by some of the best regional sculptors are artfully placed among the mossy rocks and grassy clearings on the 156-acre vineyard estate. Owner Walter Byck is also one of the major forces behind a county-wide sculpture festival taking place in Sonoma through October 31. Twelve museums and art centers are paying tribute to area sculptors with exhibits, demonstrations, and seminars. For more information on Sculpture Sonoma, visit www.sculpturesonoma.org.
Featured in January 2006